"I hate writing!"
Tears, frustration, and raised voices...is this what teaching writing is like at your house? We often deceive ourselves into thinking that some kids are good writers and others are not. While it is true that some children are gifted writers, all teens can learn to write well.
College professors are constantly complaining about the lack of writing skills possessed by college freshman. So, now we've added the dreaded ESSAY section to the SAT. Is there a painless way to teach essay writing? Again, some teens will be extremely gifted at writing essay. But, your child can learn to write a good essay.
Let's delve into teaching writing in high school.
Writing as an Artist
Writing as a Communicator
If we think of writing as communicating our thoughts, feelings, and ideas, then we must give our children practice with communicating. Talking, conversing, and role playing all give our children experience in expressing themselves to other people. Writing is always about communicating clearly, concisely, and graciously to an audience. When you are chatting with someone, your audience is right in front of you. Good writers keep their "audience in front of them" at all times and focus their writing to their audience.
Intellectual discussions around the dinner table produce good academic writers! What? Yes, it's true! The act of putting your thoughts about an intellectual subject into words and speaking them to your family (an audience) is very similar to writing a paper. Don't expect teens to write a very good paper about something they have never talked about with others. Talking about a subject is step one, while writing is step two. Listening to others express their opinions is helpful too!
If we think of writing as putting words down on paper, then we need to show our children examples of good writing so that they know what we expect from them. Often our children read literature and more literature for school (maybe with some textbooks or non-fiction "living books" thrown in too!), and then we want them to write an essay. Most teens have never read an essay. How are they supposed to write one? Before writing essays for you in high school, why not have your teenager read God in the Dock (a collection of essays) by C. S. Lewis or some of G. K. Chesterton's essays? This will show your teen what an essay looks like.
Now, it's time to get our teens writing!
Gracious, Kind, Wholesome
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen," (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
We might reword that verse to say "Do not write anything unwholesome, but let every word we write be helpful, building others up according to their needs, and benefiting everyone who reads our writing."
Keep it Simple
Good writing begins with good sentences. While this may sound very basic, many high school students cannot write a good sentence. Remind your teens of the five elements of a sentence: subject (noun), verb, complete thought, capital letter at beginning, and proper punctuation at the end. Many teens write fragments, lacking a complete thought, or run-ons that need to be divided into two or more sentences.
If your teenager cannot write a good sentence, start by dictating good sentences to them. Go over each sentence, making sure every comma, capital letter, and punctuation mark is in place. Make sure all words are spelled correctly. Next, have students write their own sentences, rewriting them over and over until they are excellent sentences. This will probably require the use of a thesaurus, to get the exact word the child is looking for so that the meaning is clear, but the wording is concise. Writing is often a balance between clear (saying enough) and concise (keeping it simple).
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I have written several high school English courses: Who-Dun-It: Murder Mystery Writing & Literature, American Literature & Research, British Literature, Communication 101: Oral & Written, and Foundations of Western Literature.
Next time, we will talk about learning to write good paragraphs and move on to writing papers such as essays and reports. Until then, get out some of those games from the game closet and play with some words!
Merey (Meredith Ludwig Curtis)